Fast and cheap food: America has given the world MacDonald's and Japan has given Cup Noodle, which are lightly fried then dried noodles in a disposable plastic cup or bowl to be eaten quickly after being brought to life by having boiling water poured over them and soaking for maybe four minutes, then having the included little packet of a sauce and another of dried chopped vegetables stirred in. Japan consumes over five billion disposable bowls of Cup Noodle a year.
A range of Cup Noodle from various producers is on display in supermarkets and convenience stores all over the city. In less affluent neighborhoods, there are stores which sell only snappy magazines, a selection of Cup Noodle, and cans of beer, the beer costing twice as much as the Cup Noodle. Beginning at less than 100 yen, a bowl of Cup Noodle is the cheapest meal possible, and one easily upgraded by adding a couple shrimp or a few slices of ham. Connoisseurs will sprinkle in a dash of a favorite spice, at the risk of the raised eyebrows of anyone watching.
Statisticians suggest that the vigor of the Japanese economy can be gauged by the sale of Cup Noodle - sales rise as income falls.
- Mark McGarrity